Escape Room, Tech

Creating an Escape Room App

Alright, so we’ve all played at least one of the multitude of escape room games that are available on our respective app stores. I’m pretty sure there’s not an escape room enthusiast out there that hasn’t. There’s just something about solving the puzzles to get to the final goal that’s appealing, physical environment or not. I’m currently working through one of the “Cube” games from RustyLake and I have to say, it’s excellent. (Much better than some of the other escape games I’ve picked up in the past.

I’m not here to talk about those kinds of escape room apps, though. While those are super fun and can provide hours of enjoyment, I’m taking more about applications that can be used to augment an actual room and be used as a part of some of the puzzles. I’m a member of several groups (such as the Facebook escape room enthusiast group) where people talk about the devices they use as a part of their rooms. They’re all pretty physical and involve a bit of electrical knowledge to get working. I guess that’s why there are companies out there that specialize in props just for escape rooms.

As a part of a recent project I’ve started on, I’ve wanted to develop a simple application that could be used as a part of the challenges for the room. I love a good challenge — escape room or not — and so I’ve been plotting how to create a simple mobile application that could be used as a prop in my project. I’ve been working to create an “escape room” for my kids and one thing that would fit in perfectly in the latest incarnation is some kind of keypad. Ideally, this keypad would allow them to enter at least one number and verify it against a pre-set value.

Now, I have to say, I am not a mobile developer. I come from a background in web development. While it would be easiest for them to use something that’s web-based, I wanted to use this opportunity to learn something new and create an actual mobile application. The idea is that, eventually, this application could be released on the respective app stores for use by other escape room groups looking for an inexpensive option to building the electronics required behind a full keypad in their rooms. In my case, I had a need for them to be able to solve a series of locks with numeric codes. So, it was a pretty easy choice to go with a basic number pad and allow them to enter the codes and hit the ✔️ when they’re done for verification…at least that’s the idea.

Using some of my own background in web development, I’ve worked up something using the Ionic Framework to create a mobile application without needing to muck around with the native code for each side (Android vs Apple). Ionic makes this simpler by allowing you to create an application with just CSS, Javascript, and HTML markup. So, as a first step, I’ve created an application that presents the user with a keypad and then verifies the code against a known value. It looks a little something like this:

It’s pretty basic right now, evaluating the input against a basic string but it’s a start. One thing that I’ve always enjoyed in my development career is learning new languages and new functionality. The language I’m using for this — Angular.js using Typescript — is a new one to me. I’ve largely been a backend developer working with languages like PHP and Python to create web-based applications so something more frontend-focused like this is a refreshing change. That’s not to say that it might not, in the future, have some kind of server-side component to it.

Until then, though, it’s just simple application, complete with keypress sounds! that takes in a code and verifies if it’s correct. When I started the project, I looked around the web to see what kinds of companies are building these interactive elements for use in escape rooms. There seem to be a handful of companies out there that create custom applications (mobile-based usually from what I can tell) for use in rooms right alongside of other more physical props. I’ll be interested to see if there’s any kind of interest in a simple application like this. I don’t have many plans to expand much upon the initial “match the codes, unlock the locks” kind if an idea for it right now. I’m just in learning mode, trying to figure out the pieces to make the application versus adding new features.

Do you have a wishlist for a phone/tablet-based application that could be used in one of your rooms? I’d be interested to hear about what you might need…

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